The Wire
January 2017

Brian Eno

In a blurb about his upcoming ambient album, Brian Eno says: ‘Reflection is so called because I find it makes me think back. It makes me think things over. It seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation.’

Who knows just what internal conversations Reflection will encourage, and that’s kind of the point. Maybe the listener’s mind will wander back to guiding Ecco the Dolphin past coral reefs and crystal glyphs on a Sega Megadrive. Or watching in stoned fascination as a lump of glowing neon prepares to slide into the cosmic liquid in a lava lamp, or witnessing a glacier calving in a nature documentary, gracefully crumbling in silence, because it’s filmed far enough away to cut out the thunder as it breaks.

Reflection is Eno’s return to the kind of headphone music he made a name for himself with in the early seventies. It’s minimal, incrementally changing, state-altering ambient music, this time made from underwatery textures and calm phrases. Soft bells, low chimes, muffled extraterrestrial wooshes and wooden glockenspiel are layered up in slow motion, then given micro-adjustments through a set of rules programmed in by Eno. “One rule might say ‘raise 1 out of every 100 notes by 5 semitones’ and another might say ‘raise one out of every 50 notes by 7 semitones’,” Eno explains, in full ambient-boffin mode, reminding us of his apparently undying love of nerdy experimentations, which first made him a pioneer in the field.

Reflection is one continuous piece, just over 50 minutes long, and a return to Eno’s unstructured, non song-based music, with no vocals, unlike his recent album, The Ship. He might have lost credibility for many when he jumped on the payroll of Nick Clegg, Apple, Coldplay and U2, but Eno’s striving nature, and his ability to morph sounds, alter moods and conduct psychoacoustic experiments still yields weird and enjoyable fruits here.

Eno once said that ambient music should be “as ignorable as it is interesting”, and Reflection glows understatedly around that sweet spot of background noise; neither bilge or beige. It’s far more meditative and infinitely less trippy than something like “Swastika Girls” from the early Fripp-Eno days, but the suck downwards into the soothing murk of what he calls ‘the internal conversation’ is strong.